Deciphering the Myths and Facts about Skin Cancer

Have you ever heard that young people can’t get skin cancer? Or that people with dark skin don’t have to wear sunscreen? There are a lot of myths about skin cancer, and they often keep people from taking important steps to protect themselves. Here, Dermatology Associates of Central New York takes a closer look at common skin cancer myths to help you learn the truth.

Myth: Skin cancer isn’t serious.

It’s true that skin cancer can be successfully treated in many cases. In fact, even the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, has a 99% five-year survival rate with early detection. Despite this, someone dies from skin cancer every two hours in the United States, and each year nearly 14,000 lives are lost to these cancers. These numbers underscore the importance of protecting yourself with sunscreen, sun avoidance, and regular dermatological care.

Myth: Dark skin protects against skin cancer.

The truth about skin cancer and darker skin tones is complicated. Most forms of skin cancer occur more commonly among Caucasian patients. Yet skin cancer is less likely to be detected early in Black, Hispanic, and other patients with darker skin. As a result, people of color are less likely to survive a melanoma diagnosis, and 60% of African American patients are diagnosed when cancer has spread to lymph nodes.

Myth: The chemicals in sunscreen cause cancer.  

Sunscreen is subject to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations and safe for use. If you or your child develops skin irritation after using sunscreen, sensitive skin is more likely to be the cause than toxic ingredients. What is certain, however, is that UV exposure increases risk for skin cancer. If you have concerns about the ingredients in sunscreen, a formula made with zinc or titanium oxide offers a natural alternative.

There’s no risk for skin cancer on cloudy days and during the winter months.

We are exposed to harmful UV rays any time we go outdoors, even on the cloudiest days. These rays are extremely powerful and can penetrate cloud cover, drizzling rain, and snow. What’s more, fallen snow can increase risk even more. The brilliant white surface reflects the sun’s rays, amplifying them and the damage they cause to skin.

Myth: Tanning beds are less risky than sunbathing.

Research from the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) reveals that tanning bed use causes nearly 420,000 cases of skin cancer each year. The UV light used inside tanning beds is the same as that generated by the sun with one important difference: it is significantly more intense. If you can’t forego a summertime glow, spray tans or self-tanning lotions offer a safe option that won’t increase UV exposure.

Myth: Only older people get skin cancer.

Skin cancer most commonly affects the elderly, and nearly half of all Americans will develop basal or squamous cell carcinoma by age 65. This doesn’t mean that younger people are safe, however. Melanoma remains one of the most common cancers in young adults, with approximately 2,400 cases diagnosed in patients ages 15 to 29 in 2020. It is especially prevalent in young women under 30 years of age.

Protect Yourself against Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is a serious condition, but prevention is possible with sunscreen, hats and long sleeves, and reduced sun exposure. Regularly seeing a dermatologist is another simple way to reduce your risk for serious skin cancer. If you’ve noticed potential skin cancer symptoms or have questions about risk factors, schedule an appointment with Dermatology Associates of Central New York today. Dr. Amin Fazeli, M.D., Ph.D., FAAD, FACMS or one of the other experienced dermatologists at our Fayetteville, NY practice can provide expert diagnosis and treatment for all forms of skin cancer.

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